The Princess Who Went Her Own Way (Finale)

(Continued from History Friday: as Paul Harvey used to say, This is the rest of the story!)

The Dowager Tsarina Marie, Olga Kulikovsky, her sister Xenia and her husband and family all traveled to the Crimea, where they lived for a time at the estate near Yalta owned by Xenia’s husband with other members of the Imperial family. While there in the Crimea, Olga gave birth to her first child, a son named Tihon. They all were under house arrest and eventually tried by a revolutionary court and sentenced to death. Quarrels between rival groups of local Bolsheviks and developments in the war – the war with Germany and the internal war between Red and White Russian factions prevented enactment of that sentence and allowed for the escape of the surviving Romanovs from Russia. Olga’s mother and the remainder of the Imperial family, their friends and loyal retainers were evacuated on a British warship. Olga and Colonel Kulikovsky and their baby son did not want to leave Russia, and with the help of a Cossack former Imperial bodyguard, sought safety in the that bodyguard’s home village in the Crimea. They were safe there for a time, as the area was held by the White Russian faction. There, she gave birth to a second son, Guri, but the White faction was already losing control of the territory they held, and at the end of 1919, the Kulikovskys had to leave Russia for good. With the assistance of the Danish consul in Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. Olga’s family traveled to Denmark, by way of a refugee camp in Turkey, and Belgrade in Yugoslavia, where they rejoined the Dowager Tsarina Marie.

For most of the next decade, Olga Kulikovsky served as her mother’s secretary and companion. It was an awkward situation, as the Tsarina Marie had not totally approved of her daughter marrying an untitled commoner – so against all of her family’s customs and tradition, and the two Kulikovsky boys annoyed their grandmother by being rambunctious and noisy. This stay was broken once, by a visit to Berlin in 1925, to interview Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Olga’s niece, Anastasia. Olga denied Anderson’s claim, but generously conceded that the woman was ill and being used by others. For the rest of her life, Olga and her family would be pestered by various Romanov imposters.

The Dowager Tsarina Marie died three years later. Although Olga maintained contact with many of her royal relatives and with exiled White Russians, for the next twenty years she and her husband and two sons (then aged 13 and 11) lived a relatively simple unpretentious life, working a small dairy farm near Ballerup, about 15 miles from Copenhagen, a farm which she had purchased with her share of an inheritance from the Tsarina Marie. Olga kept house, worked in the field and barn, took eggs and farm produce to the market, and continued painting. It seems that the Kulikovsky’s neighbors were startled and nonplussed to be reminded at intervals that Olga was a Romanov, a daughter and sister of the Russian Tsars, because she seemed so very ordinary and unpretentious. The princess had gone her own way and was completely happy and fulfilled in it. (Those watercolors of her life there, the farm, the home at Christmas, her sons and her husband are completely charming in their simple domesticity.)

Her sons, Tihon and Guri, were officers in the Danish army in WWII – and briefly held as prisoners of war upon the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Otherwise, the Kulikovsky family were bothered in the same degree as any other Danish bourgeois family by the Occupation. Possibly the Nazis hoped to recruit anti-Soviet partisans to their banner, but given the all-encompassing contempt for the so-called “Slavic” race, the relative kid-glove treatment of Olga and her family might owe more to a reflexive tendency to defer to those perceived to be of a high social class. What with being closely related by blood and marriage to just about every royal family in Western Europe, Olga Kulikovsky had social privilege and friends in high places, of which the average plebian Nazi could only dream.

The victory of the Allies in Europe in 1945 brought a degree of unrest to the Kulikovsky family, because Soviet Russia was one of those Allies, and at least briefly in good standing with the other European, British and American allies. The Soviet Russians had also formally occupied – or perhaps “liberated” a portion of Denmark. Worrisome; and even more worrisome, making growling motions toward treating anyone who had ever made even the slightest gesture of resistance or disapproval of Soviet Russia as a so-called “war criminal”. Olga Kulikovsky and her family, being fully aware of this animus and of how so many of her kin and those of anti-Soviet sympathies had been slaughtered wholesale in the Red Revolution, were understandably nervous. Likely she and her family couldn’t or wouldn’t be legally extradited to Soviet Russia on whatever spurious charges the Soviets might generate – but that did not rule out the possibility of kidnapping or assassination. She and her sister Xenia were the last living children of a ruling Tsar, after all.

So in 1948 Olga Kulikovsky and her family – which by then included her sons’ wives (the plebian daughters of farmers and small businessmen) and two grandchildren, and a single housemaid-companion who had followed Olga from Russia – emigrated to Canada. She and her husband took up another small farm, near Campbellville, Ontario, but gave it up four years later to live in a small cottage in what would become a suburb of Toronto. Nicolai Kulikovsky’s health began to fail, and Tihon and Guri had their own lives to lead with their families. Olga and her husband continued to live a simple, modest life; she did her own shopping and gardening, and only purchased cheap clothing. Sorrow arrived, in the form of death for Colonel Kulikovsky in 1958. Now and again she received visits from prominent dignitaries – many to whom she was related, or invitations from them, including an invitation from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip for lunch on the royal yacht when they visited Toronto in 1959. She had to buy a new dress and hat for that, likely at the urging of her daughters-in-law.

Early in 1960, an increasingly frail Olga had to be hospitalized. When released from the hospital, she was no longer strong enough to live alone. She went to stay with a Russian émigré couple who were good friends. They lived in an apartment over a beauty parlor in an urban low-rise street in Toronto – and in that place the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrova Romanov, latterly Mrs. Nicolai Kulikovsky passed away at the age of 78. Officers of the old Imperial regiment of which Olga had been the honorary colonel and of the Blue Cuirassier regiment to which her husband had belonged stood guard. The church where her funeral was held was packed.

In the end, she managed to have the life that she wanted; an ordinary prosaic life, a life with the husband of her choice, a life of quiet work, of art and love, far away from the dangerous privilege and unimaginable riches that were her heritage. She did not live by sponging off her royal connections, and trading on her former titles after the Red Revolution.  At the same time, she managed to do her duty to her family – in hand-holding her mother for a decade and fending off a procession of spurious claimants to supposed Romanov riches. She did her duty to her country by serving as a battlefield nurse in the First World War, and in supporting and befriending those Russians who fled the bloody mess that was the Red Revolution.

And that is the story of the princess who went her own way.

13 thoughts on “The Princess Who Went Her Own Way (Finale)”

  1. Wonderful story – and I am wondering why the Bolsheviks didn’t hunt her down like Trotsky – just kept a low profile?

    She had a kind and humble soul.

  2. It was an interesting life to read about – as another commenter on one of those royalty websites said – from riches to rags.
    But it wasn’t entirely rags: she left a substantial estate, about 1.75 million in Canadian dollars. I guess between what she had through inheritance, and what she earned through her watercolors, and through living very simply on it, her family made out OK.
    I think, Bill – a combination of living plainly and having the quiet protection of the various governments of the Danish and British royals.

  3. There were some Russian refugees in my home area. I wish I had heard their stories. A family friend, who built his greenhouse, took us to the greenhouse of a Russian friend in a nearby town. But I was 8 years old, the family friend soon retired to Arizona, and later spent only a short time back with us before he died. My mother taught in that town for 3 years; I could have asked a fellow teacher who grew up in the town about the greenhouse. What the heck, I have enough stories already.

    At the same time, not every refugee wants to talk about the old country. In my 20’s I knew a couple from the Ukraine. I worked with the husband at a small hospital, and had also worked with their daughter at a restaurant. He and his wife certainly had some unforgettable experience from the Holodmor of the 1930’s, but I was told he had no interest in rehashing them. So I didn’t push it. They weren’t the only refugees I knew from Stalin who didn’t want to discuss old times. Too traumatic.

  4. }}} I think, Bill – a combination of living plainly and having the quiet protection of the various governments of the Danish and British royals.

    I would idly speculate, also, that she was apparently never political, unlike Trotsky, who always was. Plus it was Stalin’s agents who went after Trotsky. Stalin strikes me as someone paranoid enough to assume Trotsky could become a threat. I don’t see her coming off as a threat even to Stalin, given her apolitical life.

  5. Great story. I had a Jewish Ukrainian coworker who immigrated with her husband and two kids via Belarus and Italy in 1978, thanks to the Jackson–Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. She was a production engineer, he was a software engineer, and they and their two kids have done really well in the US. None of them were particularly interested in talking about their time in the USSR, although I did pry out of her that her father was fairly high up in some sort of technical field and so when she was not even a teenager her family was moved to Siberia during WWII to keep Hitler from killing them.

  6. My father told me that he was invited to a celebration of the Tsar’s birthday or possibly his name day a little after WWII when he was stationed in Tampa. It was thrown by White Russian refugees. The story didn’t go much beyond a great many toasts for the various members of the family with vodka for some reason.

  7. Nice story, nicely told!
    Sgt Mom, if you don’t mind, I’ll add some points (learned from online reading, like this article at Russian BBC):

    *How it happened that Empress Maria resided in Crimea while Tsar family remained in the capital, where they were arrested? Empress Mariа had strained relationship with her daughter-in-law, Tsarina Alix, and when Tsar went to the army Mogilev HQ, and Tsarina remained the sole ruler in St Petersburg, the Empress didn’t want to “play the second fiddle”. She took her “small court” and her two daughters and their families with her to Crimea estate (Livadia Palace) – which saved their lives when royal Romanov Family were arrested and moved to Ural and later executed.

    *While in Denmark, Empress Maria couldn’t adjust to her new diminished status and spent money like water, which annoyed her host, the king of Denmark (he, f.i., had on occasion sent a servant to remind her to turn off the light at night). Her daughters begged her to sell the royal jewels she had in her possession, but she refused, as she expected to return to Russia and saw it as her duty to keep them intact.
    After her death at 82yo (1928) former tsarist Finance Minister Petr Bark came over from London, where he headed a commercial bank, and struck a deal with Xenia (Olga was not consulted): sisters were to receive an one-time advance for the jewels (60K pounds to Xenia and 40K to Olga), Bark will take the treasure to Britain where it will be accessed and sold, one piece at a time, by the government, turning proceeds to the sisters less commission. Firm Henkel & Sons evaluated the contents of the box and estimated base value of half a million pounds.
    Next year came Great Depression; Bark announced the market is flooded with family jewels and fell to the point that it’ll be impossible to realize the value, so the sisters will not get anything above already-received 100,000. Xenia and her 6 children were given a cottage to live in Windsor Park (but not her husband). Olga bought the farm instead.

    * During the short German occupation Olga and her family were visited by few German aristocrat officers. At the same time they were giving shelter and received expats (some were officers in General Vlasov’s Army) which later gave Soviet occupational powers a pretext to demand from Denmark that “collaborationist Romanov family” were sent to USSR to be prosecuted. To avoid this fate, Kulikovsky emigrated to Canada.

  8. Thanks, Anonymous – that actually fills out some of the background to this. And reinforces how well Olga came out of it – by staying low and living a modest life.

  9. I suspect that had she proclaimed that she was a Romanov and a rightful heir her life would have been considerably shorter

    And in my foggy old memory for decades there was a rumor of a surviving Romanov – and there were many pretenders (why would one want to publicly proclaim that you are the one and paint a target on your back?), I guess this fills in the long awaited blank

  10. [Sgt Mom, the Anonymous was me – forgot that I have to log in every time I’m leaving a comment.]
    Another historical anecdote:
    When Empress Maria and her daughters with families were in Crimea and just narrowly escaped being “put to the wall” (i.e., shot) because Yalta’ and Sevastopol’ bolsheviks were arguing under whose jurisdiction, and by extension, whose career promotion, their execution falls, they were saved by quick change of [Civil] war fortunes: the German Army advanced and occupied the area. German officers, expecting gratitude, came with a visit, and were turned out at the door. The Dowager Empress sent to tell them as there were no official peace signed with Germany yet and she is a member of ruling Tsar family, she can not receive them in her home.
    The cheek!

  11. Tatyana – Sgt Mom – thanks for the interesting historical bio! Funny how fate and small decisions can save – or cost – one’s life.

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